Monday, October 26, 2015

1268: Bacon discovers carbon dioxide

Roger Bacon was perhaps the first to conceiveof the idea
 that a substance, later called carbon dioxide,
was in the air in cellars where grapeswere fermenting.
 He does not get credit for the discovery of CO2, however.  
Even though Galen's theories about air held sway over the scientific community, there were various great minds along the way that doubted Galen, and based on their own observations, set out to perform experiments that would prove Galen wrong.

Roger Bacon (1213-1294) was born in Kilchester in Somersetshireto to a wealthy family when Henry III (1207-1272) was the King of England.  He spent 8-10,000 pounds performing his own experiments, went to Oxford, "where his great abilities were soon recognized."  He then moved to Paris, "the center of intellectual learning at the time," said historian Thomas Bradford. (14, page 112)

He was "disgusted with the superficial scholastic methods at the time, and devoted himself to the study of languages and experimental research," said Bradford.  (14, page 112)

Bradford said he ended up back at Oxford by 1250 and found himself a member of the Fransiscan order. (4, pages 112-113)
 "His fame spread at Oxford, although it was whispered that he had dealings in magic and the black arts.  Some doubts of his orthodoxy were expressed, and in 1257 Bonaventura, the General of his orders, forbade his lectures at Oxford, and commanded him to leave the town and place himself under the command of the body in Paris.  There he remained for ten years under constant supervision, suffering great privations, and not allowed to write anything that might be published." (4, pages 112-113)
During his life there was much scorn and animosity toward the medical profession and science in general, although somehow he gained the respect of Pope Clement IV (1195-1268) who "wrote to Bacon ordering him, notwithstanding the interdict of his superiors, to write out and send him a treaties on the sciences. Previous to this he, discouraged, had composed but little; but taking heart of grace and despite of the many obstacles thrown in his way by the jealousy of his superiors and brother friars, he completed in 18 months three large treatises, the Opus Magnus, Opus Minus and Opus Tertium. In 1268, Bacon was released and allowed to return to Oxford, where he continued his labors in experimental science, and in completing his numerous treatises. He wrote a great many works on alchemy, philosophy and physics." (14, page 113)

So Bacon's life is yet another example of how hard it was for great minds in this era to perform experiments, and to get their works published.  However, he made the observation that air in cellars where grapes were fermenting was not normal, and prolonged exposure resulted in mental changes and possibly death.  He determined there was a substance in this that he called gas sylvestre.  This gas later became known as carbon dioxide.

  1. Tissier
  2. Lagerkvist, Ulf, "The Enigma of Ferment," 2005, Singapore, World Scientific Publishing
  3. Potter, Elizabeth, "Gender and Boyle's Law of Gases," 2001, Indiana University Press
  4. Newman, William R, et al, "Alchemy Tried in the Fire," 2002, University of Chicago
  5. Lehrs, Ernst, "Man or Matter," 1958, Great Britain, Whistable Litho Ltd.
  6. Jindel, S.K., "Oxygen Therapy," 2008, pages 5-8
  7. Hill, Leonard, Benjamin Moore, Arthur Phillip Beddard, John James Rickard, etc., editors, "Recent Advances in Physiology and bio-chemistry," 1908, London, Edward Arnold
  8. Hamilton, William, "A History of Medicine, Surgery and Anatomy," 1831, Vol. I, London, New Burlington
  9. Osler, William Henry, "The evolution of Modern Medicine: A series of lectures delivered at Yale University on the Sillman Foundation in April, 1913," 1921, New Haven, Yale University Press
  10. Osler, ibid, pages 170, reference referring to William Harvey: Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus, Francofurti, 1628, G. Moreton's facsimile reprint and translation, Canterbury, 1894, p. 48. 20 Ibid., p. 49.
  11. Garrison, Fielding Hudson, "Introduction to the history of medicine," 1921, London, 
  12. Baker, Christopher, editor, "The Great Cultural Eras of the Western World: Absolutism and the Scientific Revolution 1600-1720: A biographical dictionary," 2002, CT, Greenwood Publishing; Herman Boerhavve published Biblia Naturae (Bible of Nature) in 1737, which was a two volume compilation of the works of Jan Swammerdam. Can you read Latin?
  13. Garrison, op cit, 266; (Samuel) Pepy's Diary, Mynors Bright's ed., London, 1900, v, 191
  14. Bradford, Thomas Lindsley, writer, Robert Ray Roth, editor, “Quiz questions on the history of medicine from the lectures of Thomas Lindley Bradford M.D.,” 1898, Philadelphia, Hohn Joseph McVey
  15. Brock, Arthur John, "Galen on the natural faculties," 1916, London, New York, William Heinemann, G.P. Putnam's Sons
  16. "History of Chemistry,",, accessed 7/6/14
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